Are you looking to try a NATO strap for one of your watches? Read on to see our top NATO strap recommendations.
One of the best ways to breathe some life and interest into one of your older timepieces is to change up the strap it’s on. While a fine crocodile leather strap or a comfortable rubber strap might look great, they aren’t your only choices. A great NATO strap might be just the ticket.
But, shopping for the best NATO strap isn’t so easy. There are a ton of manufacturers making low-quality straps and selling them for next to nothing.
You want a NATO strap that looks great, will hold up, and really sets your watch off nicely. This guide will help.
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Short on time? Here are our top three picks for the best NATO straps for watches you can buy right now:
Read on for more info and the complete list…
What is a NATO Strap
Before you start shopping for the best NATO strap, it would help if you understood what they are, what they’re not, and where they came from.
Military Origins of the NATO Strap
Like so many things in horology, the NATO strap has military origins — the British Military, to be exact. In 1973, the British Ministry of Defence listed the humble strap in the British Ministry of Defence Standard, available for soldiers to purchase for their wristwatches.
The idea was that a one-piece nylon strap would be tough and durable enough for military use. Also, thanks to its one-piece design, it would prevent a soldier from losing their watch if one of the spring bars came loose.
This was truly important as so much of organized and tactical military action required accurate timekeeping.
If you want to reach even further back, the Royal Air Force was issuing similarly styled one-piece watch straps, known as RAF straps, as early as the final years of WW2.
The most famous of these RAF straps is probably the one Sean Connery wears his Submariner on as James Bond in 1965’s Goldfinger. Today, an RAF strap more closely resembles a Zulu strap than a NATO, but they have similar origins.
NATO Strap Design
The traditional NATO strap is a one-piece nylon strap with a metal tang buckle and three metal keepers. These straps slide behind your watch’s spring bars, sitting between the case back and your skin.
There is an additional length of nylon on the underside of the strap, meant to secure your watch from sliding off.
NATO straps come in a variety of colors and patterns. Many of those patterns also have military origins, as they’re thought to represent certain regimens and platoons. Beyond colors and patterns, you can also get NATO-style straps in leather and other materials.
How to Wear a NATO Strap
There are a couple of ways to wear NATO straps, and there are certain watch styles that really look great on them. Here are some pointers on how to wear a NATO strap:
The Double Loop
The most common way to wear a NATO strap is the double-loop method. To use the double-loop, slide the longer strap through your spring bars with the buckle side at 12 o’clock. Then take the long end and slide it through the keeper on the shorter strap.
This method secures your watch from sliding around on the strap, and you’ll have two layers of nylon between your wrist and the case back. It works very well with thinner watches as it gives them a more prominent presence on your wrist.
The Single Loop
The single-loop requires a bit of dexterity and practice, but it can be more comfortable than the double-loop method.
To wear your watch on the single-loop method, slide the longer strap through the spring bars (with the buckle at 12 o’clock, of course). Before sliding the longer strap through the short strap’s keeper, place your watch on your wrist.
At this point, you’ll have one layer of nylon between your wrist and the case back. Now slide the long strap through the short strap’s keeper and buckle the strap.
This my preferred way to wear a NATO strap. I tend to wear thicker divers and aviation-style watches and the single layer of nylon keeps them from jumping off my wrist.
Best Watches for NATO Straps
Some watch styles look better or more at home on NATO straps than others. In my opinion, tool watches look the best on NATO straps. This includes divers, field watches, and aviation-style watches.
The utility of the nylon strap plays well with the hardworking attitude of an Explorer, Black Bay, or Speedmaster.
With that said, you can absolutely wear a dress watch or vintage piece on a NATO strap. In fact, a vintage Seamaster on a rugged 18mm NATO is one of my favorite looks, so don’t let your watch’s style stop you from experimenting.
The Best NATO Straps for 2021
Here they are in no particular order…
Crown and Buckle Supreme NATO
If you’re looking for a great all-around NATO strap to add to your watch collection, the Crown and Buckle Supreme NATO is definitely worth considering.
This ballistic nylon NATO features an incredibly dense and smooth weave. This means it won’t have any of the deep ridges of some other NATOs. It also gives it a tough but more refined look.
- Ballistic nylon
- Stainless buckles
- Thicker than some other NATOs
The only issue with this strap is that it’s a little thicker than some other NATOs. At 1.4mm, it will be difficult to find behind some tighter spring bars. However, the thicker material can also be a plus, as it’s more durable and will fit nicely on most divers.
OMEGA NATO Strap In Five-Stripe
When cool-factor outranks good sense, you have to go with the OMEGA NATO Strap, particularly in the Five-Stripe Black and Grey variant. While not the original strap worn by Sean Connery, this is the one Daniel Craig wears his Seamaster on in Spectre.
Beyond its big-screen chops, this strap is very nice. For a start, the hardware is beautifully polished stainless steel, with a signed buckle and third keeper. Also, the keeper closest to the buckle is adjustable, allowing you to move it around to catch the loose end of the strap perfectly.
- Awesome Bond look
- Adjustable keeper
- Super expensive for a nylon strap
Look, there’s no beating around the bush: This is a very expensive nylon strap. Is it worth it? It’s up to you, really. But, there’s no doubt that you’ll be able to tell it apart from low and mid-range NATOs. Plus, you can pretend you’re MI-6.
Ritche NATO Strap 4 Pack
If you’re looking to jump right into the NATO world, but don’t want to spend a lot of money, the Riche NATO Strap four-pack might be just the ticket.
You’ll have the choice of several colors and sizes, so you should be able to find something to work with whatever watch you have in mind. Each of these straps comes with black-coated stainless steel hardware.
- Super affordable
- Several color variations
- Lower-end nylon
For the price, the Ritche four-pack is unbeatable. If there’s a concern about quality, it’s easy to excuse when you consider you’re changing up your style for just a few bucks apiece. Pretty impressive considering Ritche glues the adjustment holes and cut ends nicely to prevent fraying.
Crown and Buckle Saddle Kangaroo
When it comes to a high-end leather NATO, the Crown and Buckle Saddle Kangaroo is at the top of the heap. It’s made from Kangaroo leather, which is ten times as strong as cow leather, but lighter and thinner.
The leather itself is absolutely beautiful, particularly in the saddle color, and the simple brushed hardware won’t distract from the leather’s beauty and your watch’s style.
- Beautiful quality leather
- Contrasting stitching might not be everyone’s taste
The only complaint, and it’s actually a matter of taste, is the contrasting black stitching. A matching brown would be less distracting. But, you won’t even see the stitching when the strap is on your wrist, so it might not even be an issue for you.
Bonetto Cinturini Two-Piece Rubber NATO
For a totally different approach to a NATO strap, the Italian-made Bonetto Cinturini is a nitrile rubber two-piece strap. The nitrile rubber won’t attract dust and lint like other rubber straps, and it’s easier to keep clean.
This strap is soft and comfortable and even breathes well for a leather strap. If blue isn’t your thing, Bonetto Cinturini also offers it in black. Possibly best yet, it has an awesome vanilla scent embedded in the rubber.
- High-end nitrile rubber
- Vanilla scent
- Not a traditional design
The Bonetto Cinturini rubber NATO isn’t a traditional one-piece design. The inner strap is a separate piece, attached with a spring bar to the second keeper. While the design does work, purists might not approve.
NDCstraps Marine Nationale NATO Strap
When it comes to adding a bit of authentic military flair to your favorite tool watch, the NDCstraps Marine Nationale NATO Strap has what you’re looking for. This NDCstraps strap uses authentic Marine Nationale parachute parts to make these straps.
Though these straps are authentic, they’re authentic to the French Marine Nationale, not the British Ministry of Defence. So, no, they aren’t precisely NATO straps, but they are a one-piece design that will retain your watch if a spring bar fails.
They’re also very comfortable, considering they are elastic parachute straps.
- Made in the traditional Marine Nationale style
- Comfortable elastic fit
- You’ll only get one color
- Not exactly a NATO
Because these are so authentic, you’re only going to get one color: green with a yellow stripe. If that doesn’t bother you, this is a great strap.
ZULUDIVER Vintage Canvas NATO Strap
If you’re looking for a rugged strap for your diver, the ZULUDIVER Vintage Canvas NATO Strap might be a great choice. This Zulu-NATO hybrid looks awesome and rugged, thanks in part to its doubled-up canvas material and stitched adjustment holes.
Like most NATO straps, you don’t have to worry about getting this one wet. The canvas material can handle it. What makes this strap so great for divers is it’s a bit thicker, so it fills up your watch’s lugs nicely.
But, because it doesn’t have the additional strap underneath, your watch will sit nicely on your wrist.
- Tough canvas material
- Rugged look
- It’s half Zulu, half NATO
The downside is that this isn’t a true NATO strap. If you can accept that, this is a solid strap.
ZULUDIVER 141 Nylon NATO Strap
Taking your field watch with you on an adventure requires a sturdy, reliable strap, and that’s just what the ZULUDIVER 141 Nylon NATO Strap is. This rugged strap will look at home on just about any field watch.
One of the best features of the 141 is that it comes in some hard to find sizes. So if you have a vintage watch with a 19mm lug width, the 141 will fit it without cramming a larger strap inside. Also, you won’t have to risk a smaller strap pulling on the spring bars.
- Rugged design
- Available in rare sizes
- Not many color choices
The only complaint is you don’t get many choices for colors. Army green, grey, black, and desert tan are all the choices you’ll get, but for a field watch, do you really need anything else?
Barton Leather NATO Strap
When war-time pilots were timing themselves with Fliegers, they purposely avoided allowing their skin to come in contact with any of the metal on their watch or watch strap. Keeping a layer of leather between the watch and their skin kept the metal from freezing their skin in higher altitudes.
The lack of metal on this watch strap makes it ideal for an authentic pilot’s watch. Barton makes these straps out of top-grain leather, including all of the keepers. The only metal is the buckle. The result is a great looking watch strap that you can take to the highest altitudes.
- Several colors to choose from
- A bit plain for some tastes
The downside of the leather and lack of metal is that this strap could seem a little boring for some tastes. While it does come in a few different colors, the monochrome look isn’t usually what NATO wearers are going for.
Barton Jetson NATO Style Watch Strap
If you work in an office all day but want a watch strap that won’t scratch your desk or computer, the Barton Jetson NATO Style Watch Strap is worth the look. Instead of two keepers by the buckle, it has one large keeper, preventing you from scuffing up your expensive computer.
The Jetson comes in several color variations, including five-stripe designs and rugged earth tones. You can also get it in 18, 20, 22, or 24mm, so most tool watches are covered.
- No metal keepers to scratch your desk or computer
- Tons of colors
- Thick keeper is a bit bulky
While this strap doesn’t have any metal keepers by the buckle, the large nylon keeper is a bit bulky. Two smaller keepers would probably work better.
Deciding on the best NATO strap for your watch does take some considerations, but the pointers in this guide will help. Whether you’re looking for a leather NATO for your pilot’s watch or a dive-friendly NATO for a diver, you’ll find something that will work on this list.
If you’re just looking for a great strap for your Cocktail Time, it’s hard to beat the gorgeous Crown and Buckle’s Kangaroo NATO.
Whatever your style, swapping over to a great NATO strap will re-energize your passion for your favorite watches.